If you’re a regular subscriber to Elated, you may have noticed a distinct lack of updates for the last few months. Here’s why.
In 2011 and 2012, elated.com was badly affected by Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. The result was that traffic to our site dropped to less than one quarter of its original level. You can see the effect of these updates in the graph below:
Punch in the stomach
Traffic is the lifeblood of most websites, and Elated is no exception. We’ve been building our site’s audience since 1997. For a long time, our traffic came from a fairly wide variety of sources: Yahoo!, AltaVista (remember them?), other search engines, and links from directories, resource pages, and articles. Over the last decade, this ecosystem of traffic sources has been largely replaced by one source: Google search. So when Google’s search algorithm decides one day that your site is no longer worthy of traffic, the rug is pretty much pulled out from under you.
This sharp traffic drop has had two effects on us. First, it’s caused a corresponding drop in revenue. Elated just about survived thanks to revenue from both advertising and product sales, and 25% of the traffic means, broadly speaking, 25% of the revenue. Back in 2011, Elated was just starting to make financial sense; now, not so much.
But perhaps the biggest effect is the “punch in the stomach”. When you’ve spent 15(!) years building up an audience for your site — only to have most of it taken away from you overnight (twice) — it kind of takes the wind out of your sails. What’s the point in continuing to spend 20-30 hours crafting a thorough, high-quality article on web development or design, when only a quarter of your previous audience — that you worked so hard to build — will read it?
This is why we haven’t posted new content on Elated for a while. It doesn’t make sense financially, and our hearts are no longer in it.
We’re not blaming Google for this at all. They’re a business, they make money, and they have to do what they believe is in the best interests of their customers and shareholders. There are a lot of spammy sites out there trying to game Google’s search algorithms, and they have to counter that somehow. Elated just got caught in the crossfire.
How did this happen?
Why was Elated so badly affected by the Panda and Penguin updates? Of course, it’s impossible to say, because Google keeps its algorithms secret.
One theory we have with the Penguin update centres around our free website templates, called PageKits, that we used to offer on the site for download. Each template included a link back to elated.com in the footer. Frankly, that seemed fair enough to us at the time — credit where credit’s due, and many other web template designers did the same thing. But these days, it sounds like Google might consider this a “link scheme“:
Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites
We were doing this since 1998, before paid “link schemes” were widespread. We put the links there simply to encourage people to credit us for the templates. We also hoped to get some traffic from visitors liking the designs and clicking through to check out our templates, but in no way were we trying to manipulate the search engines. However, times change, and these days it seems that such practices might be frowned upon by Google — and, in the case of paid links, rightly so. Unfortunately for Elated, Google presumably has no “intent” detector — it can’t tell the difference between innocently asking people to credit your site, and deviously attempting to game the search engines.
You might be thinking, “No problem, just get those links removed!” However, our free templates have been downloaded and used thousands and thousands of times in the last 15 years. To get an idea of just a small sample of the pages that use these footer links, try searching Google for “elated.com/pagekits.com” (including quotes). To compound the problem, the majority of these sites are well over 5 years old; many of them are abandoned and hosted on freehosts like GeoCities and Tripod (yes they’re still going!); and it’s often impossible to find an email address to contact the webmaster. We have tried getting a few hundred of these footer links removed, but it’s like getting blood out of a stone. If you’re lucky, 1 in 50 webmasters will actually take action.
In addition, all the work to get the links removed could be pointless anyway — we don’t know that the footer links are the problem. For example, there are millions of forum pages out there with “Powered by phpBB” and “Powered by vBulletin” in their footers, and we haven’t heard of those two sites being hit by Penguin. So who knows?
As to the Panda update — which was meant to weed out “low-quality content” — we’ve no idea what the problem was there. Maybe our content is genuinely low-quality. You be the judge!
So what now?
What does this all mean for the future of Elated? Despite Panda and Penguin, Elated still contains hundreds of useful articles and tutorials that are read by thousands of people a day, and that are referenced from many other articles and pages in Q&A sites such as Stack Overflow. It seems a shame to flip the switch and shut the site down.
So our plan is to effectively mothball the site for now. We won’t be adding any more new content for the foreseeable future, but the existing content that is on here can stay. If, at some point in the future, the wind changes and the Google gods look favourably upon Elated again, then we may start producing more content again. Never say never, and all that.
If you’ve been a regular reader of Elated for the last 17 days, 17 months or even 17 years, we’d like to say a huge thank-you for sticking with us over this time. We hope that one day we’ll be able to provide you with even more of the great content that you’ve come to know and love.
Simon and Matt